Student leaders of Long Beach City College (LBCC) have waged war with the college’s board of trustees over its decision to drop 11 instructional trade programs earlier this year and have submitted notices to recall four of its board members.
Student Trustee Jason Troia served members of the Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees with recall-petition notices during the board’s April 23 meeting, after giving a speech in which he accused trustees of violating the Ralph M. Brown Act and coming to a consensus on the program cuts “behind closed doors.”
The five-member board of trustees voted 4-1 in January to eliminate auto-body technology, aviation maintenance, audio production, interior design, welding, automotive technology, real estate, photography, air-conditioning/refrigeration/heating, diesel mechanics and carpentry from its curriculum. The board’s decision was protested by faculty and students.
Trustee Mark Bowen, who represents Area 3, the only board member who voted against the cuts, was not served a recall notice.
The program eliminations, expected to affect about 450 students, according to LBCC staff, were made after a collaborative process involving various meetings of the college’s academic senate to balance a $6.4-million structural deficit. Although voters passed Proposition 30, which averted further reductions, LBCC administrators said the State continues to cut funding.
Troia, however, made claims, among other allegations, that administrative staff provided the board with “misleading” data about the discontinued trade programs, and he called for the board to rescind its resolution and restart the discontinuance process.
“Our board and administration have lost all credibility, and our faculty leadership has failed the students of this college,” Troia said at the board meeting. “The more I read, the more disgusted I become with the questionable, in many cases, plain illegal conduct of some faculty leaders, some administrators and most of our board. I will see to it that whoever has broken the law will be prosecuted and held accountable for their actions. LBCC is in crisis and circling the drain.”
Mark Taylor, spokesperson for LBCC, said in a phone interview on April 25 that, although students distributed recall notices during the board meeting, college administrators had yet to receive any word that an actual recall-petition application has been filed or approved.
He said for a recall to go on the ballot in a special election still requires a “lengthy process” that involves collecting a certain percentage of signatures from registered voters in each trustee’s district. “They’re a long way away from that happening,” Taylor said.
The day before the recall effort was brought forward, the Associated Student Body (ASB) passed a vote of “no confidence” in the board of trustees on Monday, April 22 at a meeting led by ASB President Josh Lorenzini at LBCC’s Pacific Coast Campus (PCC) in which administrative staff answered questions from students and ASB members.
At the meeting at PCC, Ann Marie Gabel, LBCC vice president of administrative services, told students that, even with the program cuts, the college is still projecting a $1.3-million shortfall because of reduced State revenue. She said the college had to borrow upwards of $25 million last fiscal year to pay bills and make payroll.
“We have an ongoing budget deficit, and what that means is over the last three years we had budgeted to spend more than the revenue that is coming in,” Gabel said.
In response to Troia’s accusations and the ASB’s no-confidence vote, LBCC Board President Roberto Uranga said during the board meeting on Tuesday that he was disappointed.
“Well, Jason, again, you have stated quite a mouthful, but I want to say that on behalf of my colleagues on the board of trustees, I want to express our disappointment in the action taken by the ASB yesterday,” he said. “While it is easy to understand why students dislike this decision by the board, ample opportunity was provided to students and other college stakeholders to inform the process.”
Area 1 Trustee Jeff Kellogg questioned Troia about where he got his information, particularly regarding claims that LBCC’s aviation maintenance program generates $1 million in “profit” a year, adding “we’re not a business.” He also challenged Troia’s claim that the program is in the top five percent in the country.
Troia replied by saying, “check the facts and figures.”
Kellogg added, “We had to make a decision based on a long process working with all aspects of the college to make some tough decisions. We’ve done so. I think that it’s the best of a bad situation and to move forward from there.”
Area 4 Trustee Doug Otto, who has filed paperwork to run for mayor of Long Beach in the 2014 election, said he had questions about claims that a vote was made in closed session. “Where would you get that information?” he asked.
Troia replied by saying that he has “comments that were made at a conference in front of about 300 people that I have on video which I will provide for you if you want to see them.”
Otto added that he felt that communication between administrators and students has not been successful. “I feel like this has been such a failed process,” he said. “I personally feel like I’ve failed in what it is that should have occurred here in the process, because in the end this is an educational institution and, as a student trustee, especially, hopefully, this serves as an educational process for you as well.”
Not all ASB members agreed with the “no confidence” vote, however. After Troia abruptly left the meeting, LBCC President Eloy Oakley read a statement from ASB Treasurer Kristen Payne, who said authors of the resolution didn’t include the entire ASB cabinet and that additional input and revisions from ASB cabinet members weren’t permitted after the resolution was presented and before a vote was taken, “further raising the question of its validity.”
She stated that it’s probable that a majority of signatures were collected before the resolution itself was even made public, adding that the ASB’s resolution is “clouded with false facts, misrepresentations” and presents a “total lack of respect for the student body at large.”
Payne further stated that the ASB vote should be recalled, adding, “I, along with many students at LBCC, do not have an issue with freedom of speech or democracy, however, we do take issue with bullying, personal agendas and forcing issues that have not been adequately or fairly executed.”
Oakley refuted claims brought by Troia that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has suspended LBCC’s aviation maintenance program because of a loss of the program’s accreditation. He added that the college is working to resolve issues brought forward by faculty members regarding certain FAA requirements of other faculty members.
Oakley added that ASB President Lorenzini “was not present” during many of the committee meetings in which the program eliminations were discussed, and he added that college administration will continue to work with the ASB to improve communication.
“I certainly can’t speak to the actions of the ASB cabinet, but I think it’s unfortunate there’s this kind of division amongst student leadership, and we’ll certainly do everything we can to work with student leadership to resolve that,” he said. “Students have an opportunity to voice their concerns whether they’re for or against an issue, and certainly bullying is never the appropriate approach whether you agree with a person’s position or you don’t agree with a person’s position.”
Oakley added that all legal matters regarding the recall notices and any other allegations brought forward by Troia will be referred to the board’s attorney.